I wrote this about my childhood town, San Pedro, which was then the home of the West Coast's commercial fishery and also the port of Los Angeles. As a fishery, it attracted European immigrants from every country around the Mediterranean, especially Slavic people. To me, daughter of the rocket engineer, these old world grandmas seemed like something out of fairytales. Here's the poem -- as it appears in my book Femme au chapeau (soon to be available as an eBook!):
Sapphics with Little Rags and Cabbage
Fishwives from Zagreb dig in their stony yards.
Complaint-salted stories curl next to their molars
as they bury jars of pennies and nickels,
hedging the day’s catch.
Saturday evenings, grandmothers for hire
come to our house. Mrs. Pinsky’s arms jiggle
and little crosses dangle from ears. She winks,
smelling of garlic.
She salts her pot of Little Rags and Cabbage,
a stone stew she says is made with rutabagas,
rhubarb and thistles from women who, gardening,
glower at mowers.
I curse the Fisher God! they say as they spit.
Him who gaffed me onto this easy coastline.
They keep the sour taste of Vis in their cheeks,
sprouting like mushrooms.
They suffer in suits for ancient traditions.
Mrs. Vukasivich sends to the village
a picture of her Frank in his coffin, writes,
Breathing is over.